Guided Imagery (GI) engages our imagination and our five senses to elicit a relaxation response through the Mind Body (MB) connection. The mind does not know whether thoughts are real or not. That is why negative thought patterns can produce harmful responses such as chronic stress and anxiety. Most of the time, the same thoughts play out over and over in the mind, and many may be negative. Continued negative thoughts decrease our threshold for regulating stress, and create a cycle of perpetuating thought patterns that negatively influence how we see the world.
For example, you are home alone at night, and you are watching a news story about a prisoner who escaped from the jail in the nearby town. Later, you settle into your bed to get a good night’s sleep. (By the way, refrain from watching TV or the news before bedtime.) All of a sudden you hear a banging noise outside your window. Your thoughts start racing, and you talk yourself into thinking the escaped prisoner is in your back yard. Your adrenalin and cortisol levels increase, and your blood pressure and heart rate elevate. Your arousal response is on full blast. You look out your window, and you see that a raccoon tipped over your garbage pail, and is banging on the cover. Whew!!! Only after several minutes do your mind and body begin to settle back down. Did your mind think that was real? YES. Was it? No. However, your thoughts created a stress response. With all the demands we have at work and at home along with the negative news that bombards us daily, most people are in a state of chronic stress.
So, that is the bad news. The good news is we can change the way we think! By engaging our imagination through positive, relaxing thoughts, and using our senses to enhance the imagery, we will create a positive MB reaction. A positive MB reaction stimulates the relaxation response, which lowers our blood pressure and heart rate, and increases our immune response, thus promoting a feeling of overall wellness. So our minds and bodies will think we are at beach in the Caribbean or gazing at a waterfall on the side of a mountain, but we are just sitting at our desks on a break!
Over the past few decades, the research surrounding GI points to the benefits of using Guided Imagery in producing changes in immune activity (at the cellular level) as well as decreasing symptoms of nausea, fatigue, anxiety, pain, depression, and stress. Guided Imagery also promotes hope, effective coping ability, and motivation, and has been shown to enhance quality of life. Hospitals throughout the country now have Integrative Medicine Departments, and have included GI as a modality into their programs, especially cancer centers. Guided Imagery is particularly helpful in patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation to enhance the immune response and in managing the symptoms associated with cancer treatment. Once you learn the process of GI, you can put yourself on a mini vacation any time you want.
Benefits of Guided Imagery:
The optimal amount of time recommended for GI is around 20 minutes but even 2-3 minutes will create a positive result. There are many resources to use for scripts and MP3/CDs, so getting started can be very simple. In preparing for a GI session, carve out time for yourself away from distractions and demands. Sit or lie down in a quiet environment that is comfortable with your back supported and your feet on the floor or uncrossed. Begin by allowing your body to settle and becoming aware of the sensations in your body. Observe them without judgment.
The following guided imagery script can be recorded on a smart phone voice memo or other recording device. You may also simply state the script out loud to yourself. After you are comfortable with the tool, you can be creative. Running short on time? Focus, instead, only on your breath, imagining the healing light entering your head, neck and shoulders. Try this on your break, at lunch, or before or after work. Even a couple of minutes will be beneficial.
Guided Imagery Script:
Sit or lie down in a comfortable place and take three slow consecutive breaths in through your nose, exhaling through your mouth. As you inhale, you will be guided to imagine a calming, flowing light coming into your body. As you exhale, allow yourself to release your worries and concerns of the day.
Let’s begin. Imagine a healing golden light above the crown of your head. This light begins to gently move into your scalp, slowly into your eyes, face, and down towards your mouth. Allow your jaw to relax, and feel the warmth of the golden light. This healing light is now entering your neck; allow it to release any tension held there; softly continuing down your shoulders saturating all the muscles and releasing strain and tension. The light now fills your arms, wrists and hands. You are becoming more and more relaxed.
With your next inhalation, bring your attention to your heart. Allow this healing light to enter your heart space, expanding your heart with feelings of peace, joy and abundance. Take some time to resonate with this emotion. Now allow this peaceful, healing golden light to move down to your abdomen bathing all your organs in shimmering healing warmth. Moving down to your pelvic area and buttocks relaxing all the muscles. This healing light is now traveling down to your legs, calves, ankles, and finally to your feet and toes.
Notice if there is any part of your body that needs a little more attention and bring the healing light to that area. Allow the light to bathe that area until you feel warmth and release. Slowly and gently, bring your attention back to your breath. Over the course of 3 breaths, begin to wiggle your toes and your hands. Very good. You are becoming aware of your surroundings once more. When you are ready, open your eyes. Notice how you are feeling without judgment. Anytime you wish, you can step out of the hectic pace and take a few minutes to relax and renew.
This type of guided imagery focuses on the use of the imagination and inner vision. However, engaging your five senses in a GI can be even more powerful, and may also allow you to tap into your intuition, leading to deeper self- awareness.
When using other senses, you may start with the previous GI to enhance relaxation. Set a scene in your imagination of an environment that is comfortable and relaxing to you. For example, you may choose a mountain top, forest, or a beach scene. Imagine yourself walking down a path to the specific environment. Take your time walking this path, and notice what you see along the way. When you get to your destination, use your senses to crystalize the scene. What do you see? What aromas do you smell? What sounds do you hear? What textures do you feel? The more you can actively imagine yourself in the environment the deeper the level of relaxation you will experience. Remember, your mind does not know the difference between a real and imagined experience, and you will reap all the physical, emotional, and psychological benefits previously mentioned.
During the GI, you may want to ask a question or ask for guidance. Begin by affirming the positive. For example, “I know I will be guided to the right choice, what is the next step I should take?” Then sit and listen. Your answer may not come in the form of words. You may have a feeling or memory that gives you your answer. When you are done with the GI, writing in a journal is a powerful way to capture what you experienced during your relaxation time.
When you are ready to leave your chosen destination (the beach, forest, or mountain), return on the path once more. Coming back to the present day and time, once again, pay attention to your breath. Wiggle your fingers and toes, and when you ready open your eyes. Taking time to relax and renew has many health benefits, and you may have received some insight into an important question.
I hope you will give this powerful stress reduction tool a try! A great web site to review is www.healthjourneys.com. The site includes GI samples for almost any health condition from General Wellness to Fibromyalgia.